A college student’s guide to choosing a career in Digital Analytics

Take a look at the salary report the Digital Analytics Association just released and you will quickly see why the analytics field is currently very hot and will continue to be so for quite some time. As such, I thought it would be a good idea to write a quick “buyers guide” for college students interested in becoming a web/marketing analyst. Since the analytics field is evolving at a greater pace than education: you will quickly encounter a lot of skill gaps between what your education brings and what employers are looking for. The great upside of this ‘opportunity’ is that [with some additional work] you can really differentiate yourself from your competition and also command a much higher salary when you enter the marketplace. I will be breaking the post down into an overview of the skills needed, how to position yourself, and how to get actively engaged in the field before graduation.

It is worthy of a side-note that there are many flavors of analysts out there: web, marketing, forensic, financial, and many others. My focus here will be on the web (digital) and marketing positions as this is my background. If you’re looking for a role in financial or more quantitative fields, a lot of these points are still relevant but are not as crucial.

How to focus your Education

  1. An Undergraduate degree from a top 50 (US), regionally accredited University in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) arena is ideal and most places will ‘toss-out’ your resume if you don’t have this prerequisite.
  2. If your major isn’t in Statistics or Economics – You should be taking advanced classes in the following areas: Statistics, Economics and Advanced Mathematics. I’m not ‘dissing’ on the Humanities here. I actually think they’re quite useful in providing a rounded curriculum and are one of the great hallmarks of the US (and Western) higher Educational systems. I’m only letting you know that recruiters will be screening for candidates with STEM majors. Once you get experience under your belt, your college major will become less of an issue.
  3. Take advantage of minors from other departments. Specifically a minor in Business, Marketing, Information Technology, Economics, Statistics, and/or Analytics. Work with your counselor to determine which ones are the best fit for you. A Web Analyst has a lot of diversity in his or her role. Here’s a quick breakdown of why each minor or field is important:
    1. [Information Technology and Statistics] to implement the tracking code for the analytics, for gathering data sets and crunching them (in tools like SQL Server, R, SSAS, SAS, Hadoop, Redshift…)
    2. [Marketing] for understanding the intricacies of multi-channel marketing and in quantifying channel performance
    3. [Business] to be able to co-create Lifetime customer values and to understand Return-on-Investment (ROI)
    4. [Economics and Statistics] Understanding supply demand curves, sample sizes, populations, means, modes, and all-things-greek
    5. [Digital Marketing] for light experience with an analytics platform (like Google Analytics) and with reporting tool-sets (like Tableau)

Bolstering your CV with Professional Certifications

A great way to set yourself apart from your competition and to demonstrate to prospective employers that you’re ready to hit the ground running is with certifications in common tool-sets. A lot of companies are making limited versions of their products available for free and are putting their training materials on YouTube or in their help sections to promote adoption and awareness. Furthermore, as a Student you may have access to software for free (e.g. SAS, Taboola) as part of those [pesky] mandatory fees. Why not use the software to get a leg up? Once you have completed the training and have a comfortable working knowledge you can arrange to take the certification exams for a small cost. Some certifications (notably Adobe and SAS) have significantly higher costs but may offer educational discounts for current students. That being said: you should do some research into prospective companies to see what tool-sets they use – and plan your training accordingly. You will be surprised how quickly this will move your resume to the front for the coveted summer intern position or at the career fair.

Product URL Notes
Google Analytics https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/3424288?hl=en The benchmark for Web Analytics. Free training. Nominal cert fee.
Google AdWords https://support.google.com/partners/answer/3154326?hl=en Bellweather for SEM. Free training. nominal cert fee.
Adobe Marketing Cloud Suite http://training.adobe.com/training.html aka Omniture. A lot of companies still use this but training and certification are prohibitively expensive.
Tableau http://www.tableau.com/learn/training The benchmark for Data Visualization.
SQL Server concepts https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/exam-98-364.aspx A great certification resource for demonstrating your capabilities with SQL
Google BigQuery https://cloud.google.com/training/exams/cpe304-bigquery-qualification-exam Used for analyzing large volumes of data from disparate sources
R http://tryr.codeschool.com/ Common statistical analysis package.
SAS http://support.sas.com/learn/index.html Mainstream stat package. training is expensive but discounted for students.
Google DFA Certification http://doubleclickadvertisers.blogspot.com/2013/01/get-your-dfa-fundamentals-certification.html DoubleClick for Advertisers/Agencies
Google DFP https://publisheruniversity.withgoogle.com/dfp/en/school_overview/dfp-intro.html DoubleClick for Publishers

Develop your own website/blog

At UCONN, they call this the ‘toolbox.’ Essentially, its an additional forum to showcase your brand, your work, and your abilities. Creating your own website or blog is not only a great way to gain experience using Web based tools, but it also allows you to a venue to showcase your skills and passions. Maybe you like NFL football? Take the time to delve into some analytics studies on your topic. Make sure to include visualizations (graphs) and analysis. You can also include case studies or other noteworthy examples you have created at school. Check out the sites from authorities in the field for ideas. Make sure you promote your site on your LinkedIn profile, your resume, and as part of your email signature. Keep the dialogue flowing – set aside time to create at least one article a month. Lastly, MIND THE GRAMMAR! Trust me on this point: most mid and senior level managers are grammar snobs. So, re-read your posts and get a fresh eye when afforded.

Join and contribute to Analytics Organizations

As a student, you may be eligible for discounted memberships to prominent Associations. One of the standouts for Analytics is the Digital Analytics Association (http://www.digitalanalyticsassociation.org/). It’s not only a great resource, but they often have free training events you can attend as well as more formalized ones (at a small cost). Lastly, its a great resource if you have questions and can’t find answers elsewhere. Once you have your profile on LinkedIn setup, start looking for [and joining] analytics groups. But, don’t just be a dormant member – immerse yourself in the dialogue stream and try to contribute. Demonstrating your ability as a Subject-Matter-Expert (SME) is sure-fire way to distance yourself from the herd. Lastly, take a look at this analysis KD Nuggets published on the top 30 LinkedIn groups for Analytics!


Article by David

Your host and an experienced analyst dedicated to evangelizing the quantifiable, data-driven measurement of business with an emphasis on the customer relationship.

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